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Historical Radio Society

of Australia

About the Historical Radio Society

By Associate Professor Graham Parslow
If someone asked you “who invented radio?” they would likely have in mind that you would answer “Marconi”. I leave it to you to look into the many other people who should share the credit for inventing radio. If someone asked who founded the Historical Radio Society of Australia the likely answer would be Ray Kelly in Melbourne in 1982. This is substantially correct, but others also deserve credit, as revealed later in this commentary.

There comes a time when many people are independently coming to the same insight at the same time. There have been numerous radio groups since the beginnings of radio, most of them technical people engrossed in the advances being made at the time and seeking like-minded company. The groups that focussed on radio technology progressively disappeared as TV and computers became front line for electronic hobbyists. It was largely in the 1970s to 80s that a significant number of people began to collect old radios, not realising that others shared their hobby. At that time people would happily give old radios away that were collecting dust in sheds. Nostalgia radio groups began appearing in the UK and USA to preserve and reflect on the golden age that saw wireless communication inform and entertain the world.

Part of the allure of radio collecting is to revisit a happy time of youth when life was much simpler. From 1923 to 1946 an Australian family needed a kitchen stove, a fridge or icebox and a radio (the need for a car came later). The radio was the entertainment centre and a status symbol. Hence the up-market radios of the 1920s are superb pieces of furniture using cabinet making skills that are all but non-existent today. Certainly, the old-growth wood veneers that were used are no longer readily available. Many of the founding members of the HRSA were born in the early 1900s and recalled the early radios in their parents’ and grandparents’ houses. It adds personal value to an historical radio when there is such an association. The prices paid for good 1920s radios peaked in the early 2000s as the cohort who remembered these radios set out to acquire them. The ongoing demographic shift is an important factor in the ever-changing prices of vintage radios. Someday boom-boxes may come to have value as generation-X becomes nostalgic.

Collecting radios is driven by a combination of motives that can be as simple as admiring the aesthetic appeal of the many inspired and inspiring designs. Most collectors in the HRSA have some technical skills and certainly the HRSA pioneers were mostly employed in electronic industries. The contemporary HRSA with over 1,200 members has a more diverse cross section of people. The editorial written by Ray Kelly (now deceased) in the first HRSA Newsletter will give you an introduction to how the HRSA came about. You can deduce from the activities of the HRSA now that Ray Kelly was prophetic in seeing the future of his fledgling association. This is an abridged version of Ray Kelly’s introductory editorial.

Perhaps it won’t go down in history as a great day for Australia, but I hope the 17th of April 1982 will prove to be a great day for those interested in preserving the fascinating story of technical progress in radio and associated fields in Australia since the close of the nineteenth century. The response to my circular letter to date has been encouraging, and with help from you all in the form of material for the newsletter I’m sure we will be as successful as our brother societies in the U.S., Britain and New Zealand. With only a small bank balance, and no idea of the ultimate membership, a printed magazine on glossy paper is not possible – yet. However, I have tried to find useful or interesting material to fill the first pages. I need from you short or long articles on how you have solved problems in restoring old equipment, advertisements for the swap shop, interesting material from your memory or library, particularly about early radio in Australia – with photographs if possible. So that we can get to know each other better, I would like to print in each issue, a story about one member – his background, interests (primarily in the radio field) and collection, with a photograph if possible. Is “H.R.S.A. Newsletter” OK with you, or would you like something with more glamour, like “Nostalgia Calling”?

As regards the society itself, credit for its conception lies with Len Davenport, of the “Magic Spark” museum in Alice Springs. Len wrote to many of you, including myself, regarding your attitude to the formation of a society. In January last he visited me, and explained that due to his commitments to his own museum, and his remoteness from most of the likely members, he was looking for a successor. I agreed to try to form a society if he would give me the names of those likely to be interested. If I failed to form a committee in Victoria I would pass the buck back to Len, hoping that he could find someone in another state to take on the task. Fortunately, I was able to find five willing candidates and the society was formed. However, I hope that members in other states will get together to form local branches as membership grows, and arrange their own swap meets and other social activities.

In due course membership cards will be printed and this will also be your receipt for fees paid. There has already been a significant interest in participation in a “swap meet”. I would like to thank those who attended the inaugural meeting and especially those who volunteered to form a working committee. By the time you receive this newsletter I hope to be on my way to the northern rivers of N.S.W. for a fishing holiday. However, I hope to be able to visit some of you in that region.

Indeed, Ray committed himself to many personal visits around Australia and created much of the network of regional groups that continues as a tribute to his pioneering efforts. The HRSA swap meets and auctions that have continued for four decades have helped members acquire impressive collections at reasonable cost. The dream of an informative glossy “newsletter” has been more than amply realised with the ongoing publication of Radio Waves.

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